Winemaking in this region is so closely entwined with historical events as to be exceptional.
There is reason to believe that the cultivation of grapevines was already flourishing on the slopes of the hills of The Marches before its subjugation by the Romans in 268 BC.
At that time, the cultivation of grapevines was one of the sectors that upheld the agricultural economy. This is so much true that Cato (243-149 BC) and Varro (116-27 BC) were admirers of the high-quality yield of the vineyards on the shores of the Adriatic Sea between the areas around Ascoli Piceno and Rimini. In his Histories on Roman events from 264 to 146 BC, the Greek historian Polibio reported that Hannibal strengthened his horses by having them rubbed down with aged Piceno wine.
Pliny the Elder, agronomist and historian of the Roman era, reported that the Hirtiola vine, typical of Umbria, was also widespread in the Ascoli Piceno area. This goes to show the influence of the Etruscans on wine growing in The Marches. This same Pliny praised the wines of Teramo and Ancona. The historian and geographer Stradone (63 BC – 19 AD) defined the wines of Ancona as excellent and much loved for their velvety flavour.
With the fall of the Roman Empire and the invasion of the barbarians, word of vine growing in the Marches became more rare and more uncertain. Historic sources report that Alaric, King of the Visigoths, brought “forty loads in barrels” of Verdicchio wine with him to reinforce himself and his followers, who were awaiting the conquest of Rome.
News during the Middle Ages is rare. The scarce documentation available indicates the introduction of new vines and an improvement in winemaking techniques. This explains the appearance of Trebbiano, Osimano, Gaglioppo or Vernaccia wines. Pier de’ Crescenzi testified that Trebbiano was available all over the region and produced a quality wine which was pleasant and cellarable.
In the 1400’s it fell to Bartolomeo Sacchi, known as Il Platina (1421 – 1481), to recognise the value of the wines of the Ascoli Piceno area. In his work De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine he called them “worthy of fame” because this land produced “wines better than most men.”
Later Andrea Bacci (1524 – 1600), a historiographer, doctor and enologist, himself from Sant’Elpidio a Mare in The Marches, defended wine production in the region. Some considered the wines of the region not to be good wines, making a “distinction” about the quality of the wines produced. The wines produced where the land is rich and damp (plains) and where the North Wind blows from the left slope of the Apennines are “weak, corpulent and watery.” The other wines, which come from fertile vineyards where sea breezes blow, are genuine wines that need no manipulation.
In those times, in fact, to increase the percent of sugar in the grape must, heat concentration was used, meaning that the wine was “cooked,” worsening the organoleptic qualities of the wine obtained during the process.
Bacci indicated the wines of the Ascoli area (Moscato, Malvasia), of Offida, Ripatransone, Fermo whites, reds and muscatels, in the areas of Macerata, Ancona, Pesaro and Jesi as among the best.
With the passing of the centuries, vine growing evolved constantly in quality and quantity, until, in the early eighteen hundreds, it reached a production framework similar to that of current times.
BIANCHELLO DEL METAURO
The Metauro River is famous in history books for the decisive battle between the Carthaginians and the Romans which took place on its banks during the second Punic War. During this battle, in 207 BC, the Carthaginians were surrounded and severely defeated by the Roman forces. Asdrubale, the commander of the Carthaginians, was killed during the battle and his head tossed into the outpost of his brother Hannibal in Puglia. Another historic event took place on these hills. During the Second World War, Churchill was an eyewitness to the last assault on the Gothic line.
The grapevine, called Bianchello or Biancame, is typical of the Marches. According to some, it is a clone of the Trebbiano vine of Tuscany. According to others, it is from Albana vine and has spread further into other areas in the region.
Bianchello del Metauro has a straw yellow colour and a delicate and distinctive aroma. It has a dry, refreshing, harmonious, pleasing flavour and a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent.
The hillside area around Macerata dedicated to vine growing runs from a narrow coastline of about 20 kilometres, which expands as it rises towards the Apennines and the border with Umbria. From time immemorial, this pleasing wine is produced with the grapes of the Trebbiano vine from Tuscany, the Maceratino and with the addition of others (Malvasia from Tuscany and Verdicchio)in limited proportions. It is straw yellow in colour, not very alcoholic, but zesty to the palate. It is easy to imagine that the poet Giacomo Leopardo of Recanati tasted this excellent wine. The faithful that gather at Loreto, where one of the most famous sanctuaries dedicated to the Madonna is located, drink it with great pleasure.
Colli Maceratesi white has a light straw-yellow colour, a pleasing, distinctive aroma and a dry and harmonious flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent.
It is a wine to be consumed during its first year.
The production centres are of particular interest in terms of countryside and agronomy, and also in terms of artistic and historic attractions. On the border between Romagna and the Marches, there is Gradara with its castle, sought by tourists who flock to visit the room where, according to legend, the tragic passion between Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta blossomed. Dante told this story in one of the most famous episodes of his Inferno.
Five wines are produced under the name Colli Pesaresi. The red has a not very intense garnet red colour with faint highlights tending towards violet. It has a distinctive, delicate aroma and a dry, harmonious flavour with a lightly bitterish undertone and a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent. The novello wine, which has the same minimum alcohol content, has a ruby red colour, an intense, fruity aroma and a dry, harmonious, balanced flavour, rounded but vivacious. It should be consumed within one year of production.
Focara red has a not very intense garnet red colour with faint highlights tending towards violet. The aroma is distinctive and delicate and the flavour is dry, zesty and harmonious with a lightly bitterish undertone. It has a minimum alcohol content of 12 percent.
The white has a straw yellow colour and a pleasing and delicately perfumed aroma. It has a dry, zesty, harmonious flavour and a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent. Roncaglia white has similar organoleptic characteristics and a slightly higher minimum alcohol content.
Excellent wines are produced in the territories of the provinces of Ancona and Macerata, more or less the same area made up of Greek colonies before the Roman era. Among these wines bearing the Esino label are white, red, sparkling and novello wines.
The white has a pale straw yellow colour and a distinctive, intense aroma. It has a dry flavour and a minimum alcohol content of 10.5 percent. The sparkling variety has a minimum alcohol content which is lower by one percent, a straw yellow colour, a fruity aroma and a refreshing flavour.
The red has a ruby red colour and a distinctive, intense aroma. It has a dry flavour and a minimum alcohol content of 10.5 percent. The novello has the same colour with a fragrant, delicate, distinctive aroma and a dry, harmonious, velvety flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent.
FALERIO DEI COLLI ASCOLANI
The name of this wine comes from the Latin “Falerium,” a city, area and mountain (today called Falerone) and a road which crosses the territory of Ascoli Piceno, called the Faleria Road. It is a hilly area of charming beauty, sheltered from the bustle of the nearby seaside towns.
Grapevines have been cultivated there from time immemorial.
In the area of cultivation, located at the bottom of the Tenna valley, Falerio dei Colli Ascolani wine is produced. It has a more or less pale straw yellow colour and a light aroma. It has a dry, zesty, harmonious, lightly acidulous flavour, which is pleasing and very drinkable. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent.
LACRIMA DI MORRO D’ALBA
With the recognition of the wines of Lacrima di Morro d’Alba (in the province of Ancona) as DOC, a new value was given to a variety of high quality red grapevine that was about to be abandoned.
In the area around Ancona, among the red grapevines, Sangiovese and Montepulciano are prevalent, along with other varieties which include those which produce Lacrima di Morro d’Alba.
The wine has an intense ruby red colour, a pleasing, intense aroma and a pleasing, soft, distinctive, full-bodied flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent.
It lends itself to several years of ageing.
An “amabile” variety is also produced, which is the same wine drawn while still sweet and bottled between February and March so as to obtain a sparkling type with a low residual sugar concentration. It should be consumed in the first year to fully appreciate its fragrance.
During the Roman era the province of Ancona was not particularly renowned for its wine production. Nevertheless, Pliny the Younger (62 – 114 AD), orator and scholar, mentioned them respectfully in his writings. Over the course of the centuries, the situation changed. In the Middle Ages, the products of Ancona, Fano and Pesaro achieved fame. As a result the Venetian Republic, with the aim of trying to impede the exportation of wheat, wine, oil, fish and meat from Romagna and the March of Ancona into Lombardy, built a guard tower near Ravenna.
Beginning with the second half of the last century, Montepulciano grapevines began to spread into the area around Ancona and in the area of Conero. The Montepulciano vine had already produced excellent wines in other areas.
Conero red has a ruby red colour, a pleasing, vinous aroma and a zesty, harmonious, dry, full-bodied flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent.
With the best grapes the “riserva” variety is produced.
The entire vine growing area occupies the entire strip of sub-Apennine hills ending at the Adriatic coast. It is an area taken up completely by the production of Falerio dei Colli Ascolani, which is overlapped, in its Easternmost part, by the area which produces Rosso Piceno.
Rosso Piceno has a more or less intense ruby red colour and a distinctive, delicate aroma. It has a pleasingly dry, harmonious flavour and a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent.
The “superiore” type has a ruby red colour, sometimes tending toward garnet with ageing. It has a pleasing, complex, lightly etheric aroma and a zesty, harmonious, pleasingly dry flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 12 percent.
A “novello” variety is produced as well, which should be consumed within one year. It has a ruby red colour, a fragrant, delicate, distinctive aroma and a dry, harmonious, velvety flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent.
Rosso Piceno wine is best when consumed within two years of production.
VERDICCHIO DEI CASTELLI DI JESI
This is the most widespread grape vine among those cultivated in the Marches. Perhaps it dates back to the Piceni who lived to the south of the Esino river and were allied with the Romans before being subjugated by them.
The Romans liked Verdicchio wine very much, even though the epigrammatist Marziale and the author Pliny the Younger declared a preference for Falerno.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, the region was occupied by the Lombards. It was followed by quarrels and struggles between feudal lords and then townships, which led to a decline in the cultivation of grapevines. It was taken up again in the 16th century with Papal domination, which standardised laws and practices, imposing rules of good conduct.
Pietro Aretino (1492 – 1556), in a letter to Sansovino (1521 – 1586), wrote about the wines of the Marches. He also wrote about Verdicchio as if it were a cure for all ailments, according to the ancient precepts of the Salernitana School.
Currently, the wines produced in the area defined by the disciplinary are classified as follows: Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi has a light straw yellow colour and a delicate, distinctive aroma. It has a dry, harmonious flavour with a pleasing, bitterish after taste and a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent; the “riserva” type, with the same organoleptic characteristics, should be consumed after at least two years of ageing. It has a minimum alcohol content of 12.5 percent.
The wine produced in the oldest area of origin takes the additional name of “classico.” It has the same characteristics as the wines mentioned above. The “classico superiore” type, on the other hand, has a straw yellow colour and a minimum alcohol content of 12 percent. The wine called “classico riserva” has the same colour but a higher alcoholic content than the above, and is aged. The same denomination may be used for the “spumante,” which is made with musts or wines that meet the conditions and requirements foreseen by the disciplinary. The same is true for the passito type (raisin wine), which comes from the same grapes after they are dried. It has an intense straw yellow colour tending toward amber and a distinctive, intense aroma. It has a harmonious, velvety, distinctive flavour and a minimum alcohol content of 15 percent.
VERDICCHIO DI MATELICA
At the time of the Signorias, the area used for the cultivation of Verdicchio di Matelica was defended by a great number of fortified castles, some of them extraordinary, planned by Francesco di Giorgio Martini, a great master of military architecture of the time. Verdicchio was already the favourite wine of the soldiers guarding the various lands called “Marche,” a term meaning “border.” Since the region was a border for Piceni, Romans, Goths, Ostrogoths, and Lombards and for the lands of various country gentlemen (Montefeltro and Malatesta, to name the most famous), the modern name Marches was given to express this long-standing function of “separating.”
Verdicchio di Matelica was the favourite wine of Gioacchino Rossini (1792 – 1868), one of the most celebrated Italian musicians of the first half of he 19th century. An important music festival in Pesaro is dedicated to him every year. Famous for his love of food, we remember him for some recipes gathered in an entertaining book. Not even Giuseppe Garibaldi was a stranger to the events of Verdicchio di Matelica. About to march on Rome, in 1849, he was able to recognise that this superb wine had the ability to instil courage and enthusiasm in his volunteers.
Verdicchio di Matelica has a light straw yellow colour and a delicate, distinctive aroma. It has a dry, harmonious flavour with a pleasing bitterish aftertaste and a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent.
Its characteristics are reminiscent of those of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.
“Riserva,” “passito” and “spumante” types are also produced.
VERNACCIA DI SERRAPETRONA
There are some places in Italy where the old traditions, fortunately, are still holding out. This is true of Serrapetrona, in the province of Macerata, noted for its olives, wine grapes, grains and cheeses, and where the cultivation of grapevines is carried out with the old rhythm. This means with simplicity, serenity and cheer, far from the whirl and the chaotic traffic of big cities. Towards evening, an atmosphere similar to “Saturday in town” permeates, with songs sung in the taverns which recall other times.
With regard to the wine, it should be mentioned that the following was written, in 1876, in the Grapevine Growing Report of the Minister of Agriculture: “From 1872 Vernaccia is declared to be the first among coloured grapes used to furnish excellent wines for meals.”
This is a pleasing wine of great renown, a naturally sparkling red wine better known as Vernaccia di Serrapetrona in the area of production. It has a persistent froth with a fine grain and a colour that varies from garnet red to ruby red. It has a typical, vinous aroma and a distinctive flavour, both dry and sweet, with a pleasingly bitterish background. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent.
“Amabile” or “sweet” and “spumante” versions are also produced. Its best characteristics are brought out in its first two years.